First a mea culpa- I was posting on another blog about Gay Marriage and rather than try and cram my thought into a response section I referenced my post here, so if that is why you’re here I’m flattered. But my wife told me that I really should have linked directly to the post, not just my blog. Sorry guys my bad. It is right here.
Russ- It sounds to me like you are understanding point perfectly. When my understanding of a commandment conflicts with my understanding of Justice, Justice wins. But this is really a fairly simplistic way to explain it. It isn’t so much that I would expect my understanding of a Justice to allow me to just ignore commandments. As I see it what really happens is that I use my understanding of Justice to help me understand how the commandment is intended to be applied. Let me use an example that I’ve used in church before. There are several scriptures that say things along the lines of “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” I’m not sure that that is an exact quote, but something along those lines. When my wife was working at a school she was given a copy of a book called “No Greater Joy.” Basically, it advocated, based on the scripture above, and others, beating your children (it even gave suggestions as to which kinds of sticks worked best.) I would suspect that the authors of this book would say that beating children doesn’t violate the attributes of God. Because if God is Just and he commands you to beat your children then beating your children is Just. Beating children in my mind violates several of the attributes of God (Justice, Compassion, Teaching, etc.) Therefore the commandment is not to be interpreted literally, what it means is teach your children discipline, God’s attributes let me know that this is to be done in the best way we know how. Maybe back in the day when the Old Testament was being written the best way that anyone new to teach discipline was beating, so when whoever wrote those scriptures wrote them he was directing the people of his time to follow what God wanted (discipline) in the best way he knew how (beating.) But now we know that beating isn’t the most effective way to teach discipline so we teach it in other ways. What it is that “lets” us interpret the commandments in this way (rather then following them literally as the authors of the book suggest) is that, as Joseph Smith taught in Lectures on Faith, we first have a correct understanding of the attributes of God.
The mental construct of a conflict that I used in my original post was to help illustrate my point. Of course if we see a problem we should seek study further, and to refine our understanding of both the attributes of God and his commandments. If we pursue a path based on developing and understand of Gods attributes, then we can take that and develop an understanding of the commandments that he has given. By developing a better understanding of his attributes we develop a better understanding of his commandments. But if we pursue a path that that put obedience to the commandments first, without checking them against the attributes, in the hope that by obeying the commandments we’ll then understand the attributes there is no check – if we get a commandment wrong there is nothing to stop us from living it anyway.
I know that because I am human I make mistakes and there will be times, as you say, when I misunderstand the attributes and so end up living a commandment in a way that God did not intend. You are right I err on the side of assuming that my understanding of Justice is correct. Because we can’t go through life without making mistakes I think that it is just as important to choose the types of mistakes we’re going to make. Would I rather fail at obedience or justice, would I rather be too much mercy or not enough?
I think you are making my point exactly. Let us run thought the step by step logic using the Spanish inquisition as our example. If I have what I’m calling a conservative approach, I read the scriptures and find a record of God telling people to destroy those not of the faith. Now I know that God is Just so I tell my self, it is Just of me to destroy people not of the faith, and off I run to chop off heads, or burn Jews or whatever. But if instead I understand that God is Just and I read those same scriptures, I can then know that they do not give me permission to run around chopping off heads. It is our understanding of the attributes of God that helps keep us from over generalizing. Putting the attributes in the prime position doesn’t invalidate the commandments, it helps us to understand and apply them correctly. Like you said it is not the commandment that is wrong it is the application.